Local talents on display as Kuku Yalanji art exhibition opens


Karlie Brady


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Local artists from Yalanji Arts and Janbal Gallery: Andrew Gibson, Vanessa Cannon, Karen Shuan, Lorna Shuan, Brian Swindley, and Karen Gibson. Image: Karlie Brady.
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Local Indigenous artists have put their work on display at the ‘Ngana. We’ art exhibition at the Mossman Gorge Centre.

The exhibition opened on Friday and will run for the next six months displaying the talents of eight emerging and established Kuku Yulanji artists from Yalanji Arts and Janbal Gallery in Mossman.

Ngana and Kuku Yalanji Mayi showcases contemporary artworks across painting, ceramic, glass and textiles by Vanessa Cannon, Karen Shuan, Lorna Shuan, Karen Gibson, Brian Swindley, Kim Missionary, Luwana Spratt and Laurence Gibson.

Newsport spoke with a number of the artists at the launch, many of whom said they draw their inspiration from their cultural heritage, rainforest landscape and shared histories.

Brian ‘Binna’ Swindley, owner of Janbal Gallery in Mossman has six original paintings and 15 print works on display at the exhibition.

“All my artwork is about the rainforest and bush foods,” he said.

The piece pictured behind Mr Swindley (above) is called “Light of the Flame’ and represents the Candlenut which can be used to roast and eat.

“The nuts have a very hard shell which must be cracked open with a rock. They contain good oils and can be used to light your way back to camp late at night. The white-tailed rats love to eat a hole in the nuts to eat them. When the shell is left behind our people use the nut as a whistle,” Mr Swindley's description of the artwork said.

Mr Swindley added that the display is a great opportunity for both local artists and the tourists who pass through the Mossman Gorge Centre.

“They do Dreamtime tours through here and we have the prints for everyone to have a look at or buy, adding to their tour.”

Fellow artist, Karen Gibson also has several pieces on display, including the painting pictured above titled ‘Fenced’.

Ms Gibson described the painting saying, “I was trying to come to terms with what it was like knowing our people (Bama) were fenced in. They had to ask permission to go out hunting on their own country.

“The orange colour in this painting represents the land. The barb wire with the blood dripping refers to the blood that was shed in the past. The figures at the bottom of the painting represent the spirit of our ancestors that are still out on country.”

Yalanji artist, Lorna Shuan also has about 15 ceramic pieces and paintings on display at the show.

Ms Shuan, who is a traditional owner at the Mossman Gorge Community, said her art tells the stories of her country and people and is an important way for her to pass the message onto the next generation and those in the wider community.

“This is how we were brought up, respecting each other and respecting people and stories before us.”

The piece pictured in the top left corner above Ms Shuan is called ‘The Mountain (Goodbidi)’ and shows the story of the rock formation above Mossman Gorge.

“It's a Dreamtime story about all the animals that are in the rock,” she said.

Animals depicted include the cassowary, cockatoo, Rainbow Serpent, echidna and the kangaroo which sits up in the mountain alongside the good shepherd.

The good shepherd is believed to be the protector of the area, he protects the Kuku Yalanji people and animals in the village and continues taking care of them to this day.

Vanessa Cannon from Yalanji Arts also has a number of paintings and ceramic pieces showing at ‘Ngana. We’.

Ms Cannon has been painting her entire life and said she learnt from her mother and grandmother.

“My family and my grandparents inspire my work, she said.

Ms Cannon said she works with a number of different mediums including painting, screen printing onto fabrics, and ceramics.

Also from Yalanj Arts is Karen Shuan, a third-generation traditional custodian of the Kuku Yalanji people.

Ms Shuan has nine paintings on display, all about Kuku Yalanji culture.

“They are about history, storytelling, medicine, healing, and also cultural dancing,” she said.

The painting pictured to the bottom right of Ms Shuan (above), is titled ‘Short-neck Turtle’.

“Short-neck turtles are highly significant to the culture of the Kuku Yalanji people. They are important to the areas of healing and protecting our elders.”

Ms Shuan said her art helps pass on cultural messages and keeps her connected to her culture.

“Growing up in a small community at Mossman gorge, we lived two ways of life, one with Kuku Yalanji language and culture and also non-Indigenous mainstream culture.

“Art helps me keep a connection to my background, language and land.”

Andrew Gibson is another Yalanji Artist who has five pieces of clay work on show, many with traditional animals carved onto them including crocodiles and freshwater fish.

Mr Gibson said clay was a new art medium for him.

“I wanted to try something different, I have worked with a lot of other mediums like acrylic paintings and scarves, this is something new I wanted to try,” he said.

Mr Gibson has been painting since he was very young, growing up in the Mossman community.

“You hear a lot of stories growing up throughout Yalanji Country from my family and elders and you learn.”

“It is great to see a lot of the other artists displayed here too. It is a really great opportunity to see our art displayed in the Shire,” he said.

Member of the public can view the exhibition by visiting the Mossman Gorge Centre Art Gallery which is open daily from 8:00am to 6:00pm.

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